Monday, October 7, 2013

Going downstreet

600 block of Merchant Street
circa early 1950s

When I lived in Ambridge and was going shopping on Merchant Street, I went "downstreet." What a curious term. Yet, it didn't seem odd to me, as everyone I knew went "downstreet" to shop in Ambridge. It was only after I moved away, never used "downstreet" again, and never heard "downstreet" used anywhere else, that I realized how unique "going downstreet" is.

When we said we were going "downstreet," we meant we were going to places like the 600 block of Merchant St. shown in the postcard above.

Growing up in Ambridge, I had assumed that "downstreet" was simply a way of distinguishing a shopping trip to Merchant Street from one in Pittsburgh. Because in addition to shopping "downstreet," we also went "downtown"--into Pittsburgh.

Perhaps "going downstreet" is just a shortened version of "going down to Merchant Street."

On the other hand, maybe the "down" in "downstreet" refers to direction, since some people who grew up on Park Road, to the west of Merchant Street, have told me they went "upstreet" to Merchant. While the numbered streets in Ambridge run west to east and cross Merchant Street rather than run parallel to it, the building numbers go "up" as you go from Park Road to Merchant Street.

Or maybe the "down" in "downstreet" simply reflects the reality of living in Ambridge. If you go to Merchant Street from most of Ambridge, you go "down." As in "downhill."

But then, folks who lived on Park Road, which was between the Ohio River and Merchant Street, who said "upstreet" didn't need to go "uphill" very much to get to Merchant Street, as Park Road isn't much lower than Merchant Street, especially compared to streets uphill from Merchant. But I'll grant that Merchant Street is "up" from even Park Road as opposed to going "down" to the river.

I thought perhaps that "downstreet" was unique to Ambridge until someone pointed me to the "Pittsburghese" website. Is "downstreet" used in Pittsburgh? If so, is their "downstreet" also "downtown"? Or is "downstreet" primarily a Beaver Valley/Beaver County expression?


  1. I heard "downstreet" a lot growing up in Byersdale. My parents didn't say it. They came to the valley in 1939 from Butler County.

    I can remember thinking it sounded odd because of the missing words and asking my mother what it meant. She told me it meant going to shop on Merchant Street.

    Later, the same people who said "downstreet" would tell me stories of Ambridge and other valley towns during the war, of the crowds of people in the shopping districts and at movie theaters and dance halls and nightclubs. The "Merchant Streets" of the era must have been exciting, vital places.

    In north Baltimore, people go "downey AV-e-NEW" meaning 36th Street in Hampden.

  2. jd aka john domansky

    back late 30s & 40s i was a free spirit kid, i roamed all of ambridge & fair oaks, 40s i walked everywhere. from river to top of hill 14th st to fair oaks late 40s it was all of ambridge, i knew every street name every short cut to & from. had many friends & some not so friendly, one stands out about as a 13 yr old I was walking thru anthony wayne school playground & had a big kid chase me, i was fast he fell on his face & i laughed & kept running, after graduating in 1954 we ended up in walt wachts dads house, rental. I met the kid that chased me thank god he did not know me, he was eugene ondrako, & became my best friend, football player grad 1950. a lovable bear, he died early., never heard the downstreet phrase tho. a bus ride was a nickle & rare, poor folk walked. i envied anyone having a cooked dinner waiting for them, sundays were family meals, 1 chicken from slaviks live (mom plucked it) & creamed peas & dumplings, after church sunday at divine redeemer.
    i remember fishing under the byersdale bridge opposite side of road towards hill. remember walking up anthony wayne terrace where sister lived many times, that was a walk.

  3. I grew up in Harmony Township and we were always going "downstreet" and no one questioned where we were going - they just knew.

  4. My father was born in 1945 and grew up in Ambridge. I spent all my childhood holidays there as well, at my Grandparents' house on Park Road. I have wonderful memories of the park, of farmer's markets, of walking uptown for donuts...and so much more. Stumbling across this blog filled me with a lot of different emotions and I can't wait to share this with my dad! Thank you for putting all of this together.